Beer not welcome in wine-obsessed France
Recovering from the infamous New Year Hangover was all the harder for us in France this year when we discovered, after dragging ourselves to the pub for an indispensable hair of the dog, that the most thirst-quenching of hangover solutions had just become that little bit more expensive.
The hike had been decided on in early December (happy Christmas!), when the French parliament approved a bill to raise beer tax by an excruciating 160%.
For the average French pub-goer, this is not a world-shattering change. But that’s because the average French pub-goer only drinks around five pints of beer per month. Per month! The average British or Irish pub-goer drinks that much in one night.
Analysts predict that the cost of a pint will increase by 20 – 25%. With the current price – frankly extortionate for the poor standard of beer provided – at around €7 in Paris, we could be looking at €8.50 - €9 from now on.
And it’s not only beer-guzzling expats who are affected by the change. Naturally, French and European breweries are seriously concerned. They’ve pointed out that France as a nation barely drinks any beer as it is. (Only 16% of alcoholic consumed is beer, whereas wine makes up 59%.) And while the government tried to pass this off as health-related action, their argument was soon quashed by the simple fact that they left wine untouched, despite its much higher alcohol content.
The reason France is able to get away with such a painful increase (the European Brewers’ Association described it as “the largest in history”) is because neighbouring governments collect a much prettier penny from their own punters. As President François Hollande pointed out in December, France’s increased rate is still piddly compared with those of the UK and Ireland, the treasuries of which garner 55p and 39p per pint respectively.
But while the tax rate is, unarguably, enormous in those countries, the price of beer is not. Even in capitals London and Dublin, the average price for a pint remains at around 5 euros. So worried are the citizens of Britain that the beer tax might get even higher, that they have created an online petition against it, which has already been signed by more than 100,000 people.
No chance of beer dying out there. In France, meanwhile, beer-drinking could soon find itself on an endangered activities list. While north-eastern France has a historic tie to beer, the rest of the country has yet to even discover it. The draught beer on offer in most bars is industrially-produced, tasteless and flat. It’s no wonder the French drink so little of it.
Let’s hope the global micro-brewery craze – which is just starting to take root in France – turns things around for the imperilled pint. At least if we’re drinking decent beer, then we won’t feel so bad about paying so much for it…